Sonics’ Durant honored as rookie of the year

5-02-08 -- Kevin Durant was so excited to learn he had just won the NBA Rookie of the Year award, he went back to sleep.

That’s what seven months and 82 games—more than double the amount the lanky 19-year-old had played in any previous season—can do to a teenager.

Fatigue that wasn’t apparent while Durant soared in Seattle this season finally caught up to the SuperSonics’ star this week. Then his mother, Wanda Pratt, woke him up with the news that he had just joined mentor LeBron James plus Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain in a legendary legacy of rookie award winners.

“I was asleep. It was a LONG season,” Durant said Thursday with a smile about Seattle’s 20-62 disaster, the worst season in team history. “My mom woke me up when she got the call. She screamed. I was happy.

“Then I went back to sleep.”

Durant, the national college player of the year at Texas and the No. 2 overall draft pick last year, was as dreamy as advertised during an otherwise nightmare season in Seattle.

Despite being the only man opposing teams schemed to stop, the 6-foot-9 Durant averaged 20.3 points, 7.7 more than any other rookie. He was the only rookie to lead his team in five categories—points, blocks, steals, free throws made and free throw percentage. Durant blocked more shots than any other guard in the league (75).

The rest of Seattle’s season involved losses and lawsuits.

Sonics owner Clay Bennett recently got league approval to move the team to Oklahoma City. Seattle has a trial date next month, its effort to make the Sonics play inside KeyArena for the final two seasons of their lease.

“It’s good to shine some light on our team. You know, a lot of people aren’t real fond of our team right now,” Durant said.

He recently purchased a home in suburban Seattle. His mother lives with him. She and Durant’s father, Wayne Pratt, joined four other family members at Thursday’s announcement.

“I love Seattle. My home’s here. My mother’s here,” Durant said, acknowledging where he plays next season is out of his control.

Durant received 90 first-place votes (545 points) from a panel of 125 writers and broadcasters. Atlanta’s Al Horford finished second with 390 points, and Houston’s Luis Scola was third with 146.

It’s all beyond what Durant could have comprehended two years ago as a senior at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md.

“If you would have told me a couple of years ago that I would be the NBA Rookie of the Year, to be in the same company as LeBron James, Larry Bird … I would have told you you were crazy,” he said.

“I didn’t think I would get it, because those other rookies helped their teams get into the playoffs.”

Some believe that benchmark should have given Horford the award. Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo isn’t one of them.

“It would have been a travesty if they had picked anyone else,” Carlesimo said minutes before general manager Sam Presti said the coach “absolutely” will return next season.

Durant said Horford congratulated him on the award Wednesday, just before Game 5 of the Hawks’ surprisingly competitive first-round playoff series against Boston.

“I’d rather trade this in to be where he’s at right now—in the playoffs,” Durant said.

One of the first text messages of congratulations Durant received was from James, the Cleveland superstar whom Durant calls a mentor and good friend. Durant attended James’ playoff games with the Cavaliers in Durant’s hometown of Washington last weekend.

James was the Rookie of the Year in 2004, when he was 19.

“He told me congratulations. That’s when I was thinking like, `Man, I’m in the same company as LeBron, when he was a rookie,”’ Durant said. “I just smiled inside.

“He’s like a big brother to me.”

Though Carlesimo said “If he did anything wrong, at times he made it look too easy,” Durant admitted he struggled early in the season. He said he was taking too many 3-point shots and not driving to the basket.

After the All-Star break, Durant said he took it upon himself to be more aggressive. He got higher percentage shots and more chances at the free throw line. He finished the season by averaging 24.3 points in April, including a season-best 42 in the finale at Golden State.

Yet he has areas where he wants to improve.

“Post skills. Ball-handling. Shooting,” he said. “When I get bigger and stronger, hopefully my game will take off to the next level.”